Visit to Moscow, August 2007

By Jaroslaw Kierat


During my trip to Russia, I visited the VVS Museum in Monino, and the Central Museum of the Soviet Armed Forces in Moscow. Monino features some unique Russian aircraft, such as a number of long-kept secret prototypes from the cold war era, and historical artifacts like the La-7 of Marshal Ivan Kozhedub, the highest scoring allied fighter ace of World War II.

While most visitors come to Monino on pre-arranged trips, it is also possible to pay a visit by public transportation, which can be a good idea, should you be in Moscow on business or have some spare air-miles left. The tourist infrastructure in Russia is still not the best, so to get around, you should be able to decipher the Cyrillic characters, at least for street and metro station names. One really important thing: always keep in mind the registration, and carry the proof (issued by the hotel) with you.

As a side note: a good hotel to stay is the Izmailovo complex, which was built for the 1980 Olympic games. The prices are moderate for Moscow, and there's a metro station (Partizantskaya) and some shopping facilities nearby.

Getting There - Monino

The museum's website can be found here. Monino is a suburb of Moscow, some 70 km east of the center. To get there, you need to take a suburban train from the Yaroslavsky train station (Komsomolskaya metro station). Monino is the 23rd station on the line to Friazyevo. The tickets are some 63 RUB (2 EURO), and can be bought at the counters outside the train station building, next to the platforms (the counters inside sell only tickets for long distance trains).

Arriving after about one hour at Monino, you leave the train station to the right of the driving direction through an underpass. Then turn right again, and follow the row of shops. It's a good idea to grab a snack and something to drink there, since in the museum the amenities are virtually nil; the tiny "cafe" in front of the ticket office is either closed, full, or not operational. At the end of the line of shops, there's the north gate, with military guards. While I'm not sure about the status of the area (it looks like a military settlement), it is possible to enter, and walk to the museum.

An anecdote on the side: Asking the guards at the north gate about the museum, they mention that it's necessary to have a drive-in permit. Considering the fact, that when arriving by train, one is generally on foot, it first seems strange - then again: it's about 30 to 40 minutes of walking from the gate, so most people probably arrive by car. Yet during my visit I saw a number of foreigners asking their way through, communicating with hands and feet. Anyway, the guards will send you on. If you come by car though, a permit from the administration is required, and has to be ordered well in advance.

It's not possible to walk straight to the museum - you have to side-step the VVS Academy which is a restricted area (see attached sketch). Arriving at the museum, you need to get a ticket, which is about 300 RUB (8 Euro) for foreigners (and about 1 Euro for Russians), and some 200 RUB (6 EURO) extra for taking pictures. The extortionate admission prices for foreigners are common habit in Russia, so don't take it personally. The admission is still affordable, and the wonders behind the gate really unequaled.

The admission times (as far as I recollect) are from 9am to 5pm. It stays closed on Sundays and Wednesdays, and open on Saturdays only till 2pm

The Museum

Just after the gate you are greeted by a leviathan Mil V-12, which dwarfs even the Su-35 parked next to it - and that's already a behemoth in its own right. On the right there's a row of post-war bombers, starting with a copied B-29. Straight ahead there are some of–in my opinion–the real gems of the exhibition: the supersonic bombers Myushchin M-50 and the Sukhoi T-4 "Sotka," which looks like a military version of the Tu-144. The stainless steel and titanium skin with fine etchings of time leaves an incredible impression. Just past that is the helicopter alley, with rarities like a the Mi-10, a Yak 24, some Kamovs, and most of the Mil family. On the other side of the walkway, the sequence of Yaks starts with the early jets, the Yak 17, through some early post-war bombers and rarities like the first VTOL Yak 36 to the contemporary variants.

Thereafter a number of MiG jets is lined up, starting with a MiG 9, then a variant of the MiG 15 with bomb launchers, through the MiG 17, 19, 21, 23 and 27. Several MiG 25 stand side by side with a number of MiGs 31, next to a few MiG 29. The pulse of any aircraft enthusiast is racing by then, but that's far from all. The MiG-105 lifting body study for the Buran shuttle is displayed next to the experimental MiG E-166. While looking like a MiG 21, it's far from that: much larger, it's a vehicle for testing the monstrous Tumansky engines, which came to use on the MiG 25. The result is an aircraft scoring a number of speed and altitude records, and - in my opinion - the prize for most aesthetic jet ever.

Tucked away all the way in the back behind the large transports, there's one more surprise: a baby "Caspian Sea monster" - the Ekranoplan VVA-14 - unfortunately in bad condition, this ground effect craft is another of Monino's unique treasures. The bulky Beriev 12 flying boat is stuck between all the MiGs, but more interesting are the very large bombers like the Tu-95 and 3M parked in the middle of the green. Further up, opposite the Sukhoi line-up there are some lend- lease planes, like the B-25, P-39 and A-20. After them another line of interesting and rare machines: Russian WWII bombers: the DB-3, TB-3 Tu-2, Pe-2, then an Il-10, and (presumably temporarily outside) the famous Shturmovik IL-2. That plane is interesting for plastic modelers, since it has the straight wooden wing, like the recently released Eduard / Italeri kits (for more information please visit the vvs.hobbyvista web-site).

The walking lanes are now lined by chain railings. If you really feel the urge to have a closer look, you can actually walk up, without getting shouted at too much. There are two hangars at Monino that house the more cherished exhibits. Since one of the halls was closed for refurbishment, the IL-2 was parked outside, but inside the display was no less impressive: a Po-2, a Yak 9, an I-16 and Kozhedub's La-7 were parked in the hangar opposite a number of experimental aircraft and a reproduction of the WW-I bomber, an Ilya Muromets. While the exhibits looked well taken care of, they, to a certain degree raised questions as to their historical accuracy: some planes were declared as mockups, but some of the historical units like the Po-2 or I-16 may be mockups too, or just repaired in a "creative" manner over the years. The same may apply to Kozhedub's White 27, but for some more background information on this topic, refer to the vvs.hobbyvista web-site.

Overall, the museum is worth the trip and every cent they ask for. What Dayton is for the US-Airforce, Monino is for the VVS. And since the financial resources of the museum are scarce, they need every tourist they can get, to obtain the funds to preserve this legacy of soviet marvels of technology.

Central Museum of Armed Forces

The museum's website can be found here. This museum in located in the center of Moscow and can be reached by metro (Station Novoslabodskaya). After leaving the station, turn left around the corner into the Selyeznevskaya street, and prepare for another half an hour of walking, till you reach a large domed building where you turn left into the Sovietskoy Armi street. The museum is recognizable from far away by the T-34 tank parked at the gate. There are also some monuments in front: one distinct is the Monument for the Kursk sub, which sunk a few years ago. Inside, the museum features a crowded backyard with a number of post-war planes and helicopters, as well as a significant collection of ground vehicles and even some boats! Among the aircraft, the ones worth mentioning are the MiG-21F, which I haven't seen anywhere else, as well as a nicely restored Ka-25.

The true strength of the museum is its armor: many tanks from the early days of the Soviet Union to contemporary vehicles are on display. Most striking for me was an armored locomotive, and a launcher for the SS-20 ICBM. Since I'm not too deep into tanks, all I can say is that they show much more than the usual T-34 or T-55.

Inside the building there are several levels with exhibitions showing the theatres and campaigns where the Soviet Army was deployed. Quite interestingly, many original artifacts from WWII are on display, like piles of seized German rifles and machine guns or iron crosses! There are also many exhibits from the later campaigns like Afghanistan, and the wreckage parts of the downed US U-2 spy plane.

As a recommendation: first, look at the exhibition inside because during my visit the indoor-exhibitions closed one hour prior to the outdoor area. The museum stays closed on Mondays and Tuesdays too. Generally, the quoted admission times, cost etc. refer to August 2007. Since prices in Russia are rather volatile, please have a close look at the referring web-sites.

Have a good trip and enjoy.


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